Asthma attacks

What to do before, during and after an asthma attack

⚠️ Important

Asthma attacks can be fatal – three people die from asthma attacks in the UK every day.

If you're having an asthma attack, it is vital that you act now.

Symptoms of an asthma attack

 

You're having an asthma attack if you are experiencing any of these:

  • Your blue reliever isn't helping, or you need to use it more than every four hours
  • You're wheezing a lot, have a very tight chest, or you're coughing a lot
  • You're breathless and find it difficult to walk or talk
  • Your breathing is getting faster and it feels like you can't get your breath in properly
Information by the NHS 
and Asthma UK
NHS logo

What to do if you have an asthma attack

 

If you think you're having an asthma attack, you should:

  1. Sit upright (don't lie down) and try to take slow, steady breaths. Try to remain calm, as panicking will make things worse.
  2. Take 1 puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30 to 60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs.
  3. Call 999 for an ambulance if you don't have your inhaler with you, you feel worse despite using your inhaler, you don't feel better after taking 10 puffs or you're worried at any point.
  4. If the ambulance hasn't arrived within 15 minutes, repeat step 2.

Never be frightened of calling for help in an emergency.

Try to take the details of your medicines (or your personal asthma action plan) with you to hospital if possible.

If your symptoms improve and you don't need to call 999, get an urgent same-day appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse.

This advice is not for people on SMART or MART treatment. If this applies to you, ask your GP or asthma nurse what to do if you have an asthma attack.

Early warning signs – and how to stop an asthma attack coming on

 

Book an urgent appointment with your GP or asthma nurse if you are experiencing one or more of these signs:

  • Your symptoms are coming back (wheeze, tightness in your chest, feeling breathless, cough).
  • You’re waking up at night because of your asthma.
  • Your symptoms are getting in the way of your day-to-day routine (e.g. work, family life, exercising).
  • You need to use your reliever inhaler (usually blue) because of your asthma symptoms three times a week or more.

If you recognise any of these signs, they are telling you an asthma attack could be on its way. This is your chance to stop it coming on. Book an urgent appointment with your GP or asthma nurse or visit your local walk-in centre. They can help you to stop an asthma attack before it happens, or make it less serious so you don’t end up in hospital.

After an asthma attack

 

  • There are three key steps you'll need to take as soon as possible after an asthma attack. These will help stop you from having another attack.
  • One in six people who receive emergency treatment for an asthma attack need emergency treatment again within two weeks.
  • It's tempting to think that after an asthma attack you can go back to living your life as normal. Asthma attacks are not normal, even for people with asthma. You shouldn't have to accept them as part of your everyday life.

What to do after an asthma attack